31 December 2006

Happy new year!

In the words of Franz Liszt, "Merry Christmas, y'all." (Bet you didn't know he was from SOUTHERN Hungary, did you?)

It's been a busy year at Burton Manor, home of the Burton-Lyfords (or, if you prefer, Lyford-Burtons). We have spent a lot of time adjusting this year. The boys are both doing very well at Montessori School. Kid1 has started kindergarten at The Big School and is learning so much that in two years he'll be overqualified for management. Kid2 is now one of the older kids at The Little School (aka preschool) and is starting to develop leadership skills. However, I don't know if I like his plan of annexing Ohio first. Kentucky seems a better target, but you have to let kids learn.

The boys have also started karate classes, to help with their coordination, concentration, discipline, and appreciation of old Bill Cosby bits. "Now he only picks on jello and whipped cream."

Richard took Eva to her first Indy 500 this year. What a finish! What a first race! Not only was it one of the best finishes ever, it was great for her to see another Andretti loss in her first race. She wrote about it in her blog in June, so you know it's huge if it's been blogged. She may not be too interested in going again, especially on such on a hot day, but it is something everyone should try once.

We took two trips to Brown County State Park this summer. The first was a day-trip to go hiking, with a side stop at the Oliver Winery, which we've been asked if we own now that we wear the Oliver hats. While on the hike, kid2 spotted a bullsnake that kid1 had passed and wanted to step into poison ivy-laced undergrowth to check it out. From a distance, it looked like it might have been a rattlesnake, and that hiss sounded close enough to a rattle. Richard, fortunately, did not need his spare set of boxers, and the boys got a nice lesson: nature is not all Disney. We also saw some wild turkeys in the park, which nearly inspired the adults to crack open the wine on the way home after a day of kid-herding. The second trip was in late summer, right before the boys went back to school. We stayed at one of the Abe Martin Lodge cabins in the woods. It was neat for Eva and the boys, but Richard, having grown up listening to Waylon and Willie, didn't find it quite as fascinating. This didn't involve too much danger, except for short but steep climb at the end of one hike. There was also a huge scary-looking spider near the cabin that inspired all sorts of Tolkeinesque stories, some from the kids.

During the summer, Eva and Richard went to southern Ohio to visit his mother's relatives, the outdoor toilet side of the family. Oddly enough, Eva did not run screaming to the horizon, though that does make sense given the local snake population. That she didn't immediately file for a divorce/annulment is a good sign, though we shouldn't expect her to wear a Git'r'done belt buckle with Daisy Duke shorts any time soon.

One of Richard's highlights was taking the boys to their first Colts game, a pre-season affair with the Bengals. The Colts do know how to do pregame introductions, with both boys' eyes rivetted to the field. A big motorcycle on the field! Fireworks! Cheerbabes! Popcorn! It was the coolest thing in the world!

You may not have heard, but there has been an addition to our family. On that fateful day, Richard called his father to let him know that he was about to become a grandfather again ... of a bouncing baby beagle. As soon as she came into the play area at the Humane Society, we were all sold. Eva dubbed her Perl, after Richard's favorite programming language, and she has become the center of our family life. Eva and kid1 took her to a few basic obedience training classes, and Richard took over when Eva got sick. (Too bad the place only works with dogs, not kids.) Perl is an absolute sweetie, though there are days when Eva is accurate in saying she is "slightly less trouble than she's worth." She still has a lot of puppy in her and has charmed everyone she's met. Our house and life is very dog-oriented. Seeing how Perl and the boys interact, Eva and Richard are now wondering why they didn't get a dog earlier.

Here's hoping for a better new year than the end of this year was. Eva has been sick for four straight weeks and counting, kid2 and kid1 have been sick off and on, and after holding it off for so long, Richard has finally succumbed. Eva wants to call a "do over" on November, but Richard's knowledge of physics and time says that this is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, Richard is considering a correspondence course to be medicine man, starting with the "You Too Can Speak Sioux in Twenty Lessons or Less" cassette series.

Here's to a happier, healthier New Year for all.

30 December 2006

Guest review: The five ancestors audiobooks

By Elliot

Elliot recently finished listening to 3 of the 5 books in the series The Five Ancestors by Jeff Stone: Tiger, Monkey, and Snake. Following is his review, presented as an interview with Elliot about the books. I first heard about the books via an interview on NPR.

What are the books about?
Ying wants to find the dragon scrolls, he wants to be a dragon kung fu master. Each character has different styles of kung fu training.

So there's different styles of kung fu?
Dragon, monkey, snake, crane, tiger, deer and dog are some of the styles in the book. There is eagle style too.

Who's your favorite character in the book?
Ying. I don't want him to win but I like him. I enjoy reading about Seh, the snake master, too.

What was the most exciting part of the book?
When Seh met Angangseh, the cobra. Angangseh is secretly Seh's mother. She killed two armor-clad soldiers. It wasn't scary. She had poison under her fingernails.

Are the books violent?
Of course. But not too violent. It was pretty good. it would scare a scaredy-cat.

Do you do tae kwon do?
Yes. I am a yellow belt. I have learned some of the stances that were in the books, like the horse stance. I am practicing the no-shadow kick.

What's next in the series?
Dragon and Crane. I'm waiting for them.

New! Just out recently
Crane (5 Ancestors)

26 December 2006

Did they finally take me seriously?

I just realized today that it appears my family and loved ones finally took me seriously in my regular affirmatons about the benefits of using the public library collection, the Project Gutenberg e-books, my fussing about lack of space for book storage, and angst over my ever-growing hopper of books to read at my bedside. For the first time in, probably, ever, I didn't get a book for Christmas.

Oh, they all did plenty well with gifts (Star Trek DVD collection! Woo-hee!) but I was shocked to receive not a single piece of literature. Not one. Nada.

And, as the kids said, it was still the best Christmas ever. I was home with my children and family, everyone fairly healthy, well-fed, warm and secure - I really couldn't ask for more, except hoping that everyone else enjoyed the day too. Merry Christmas, all!

20 December 2006


I'm trying to make sure this holiday season that I'm logging 10,000 steps a day, to combat the rising digits on the scale with rising digits on a pedometer. I'm doing ok, but have seen no real change in the scale yet, though a previously unwearable pair of jeans has now become merely tight. That's ok for now. I'm also thinking that setting an average goal of 10,000 steps a day in the new year may be something that gets me up and moving, breaks my sedentary habits, and is an exercise I can actually get my heart into (and hopefully, for the holidays I'll get a cool and more usable pedometer to replace my old but servicable one; unfortunately, the reset on that one is prone to jarring and a heartrending 00000 appears midday.) I don't watch tv or sit around much, other than when computing. After wearing the pedometer for a few days without consciously trying to change my habits (although I suppose I must have just by putting on the pedometer!), I found I logged a baseline of 5,000 or so steps 'natively'. After trying to adjust my habits a little - by following the Jane Fonda credo to "park far and walk" to get in shape, I started to get up and moving more - and that surprisingly nudged me up to around 7000 steps easily. Wow, a 40% change with just a little more thoughtfullness. Yesterday, I put the dog on the leash and we went for a trot; this sent me right up to 13,000+ steps.

I'm also planning to log my steps at walkertracker.com. Check out the nifty widget they have for me, now debuting in my sidebar. I love useless statistics and trivia, and this widget blends them so artfully.

18 December 2006

Piling it on

Another challenge? Am I insane? I am still working on the From the Stacks Challenge (Lincoln!!) and just signed up for the 2007 Classics Challenge (Ulysses? Oh lord...) so why in the world would I agree to another?

Well, fresh from my success at the GIFT Challenge, perhaps I'm feeling cocky. Also, I'm an avowed Optimizer and am unashamed to double-dip for my reading; I once submitted a paper on Montaigne for history class in college, then reworked the darned thing for my philosophy class as well. I consider it a survival skill in my hectic life, one that I take opportunities to hone now and then.

So, with that preamble, I reach again into the hopper and come out with Doris Kearnes Godwin's Team of Rivals, (754 pp, sans footnotes) and James Joyce's Ulysses (705 pp). Both qualify for the challenge, being sufficiently weighty enough to heave at the dog at need. Further, I have had a struggle reading Team, for which I have no idea as to the cause - it is a genuinely nice read, when I settle down with it. Perhaps that is the trouble; I tend to read on the go, while waiting somewhere or in 5 minute segments I grab somewhere. And this is a book that has to be read in place to do it justice. I anticipate the same struggle with Ulysses. My hope is that with a little extra nudge on these two - just the sort that a challenge can provide - perhaps I can crest the peak and wrap these up.

Thanks Bookfool for letting me know about the challenge!

17 December 2006

G.I.F.T Challenge Success

I have to dash off next to update Carl V. at Stainlesssteeldroppings that I have completed the challenge! The challenge from Carl was to pick 4 of 6 of various Christmas memories, and 2 must be new to you, or something you haven't done in a while. Here are my choices:

  • Christmas movie: A Christmas Story, which I've never seen before. I got it from the library Wednesday the 6th and waited until it was way overdue to get time to see it. Duh. Still, it was cheaper than a rental fee, even from netflix which has been hounding me lately to get a subscription. So, I put the moviein, opened a bag of yummy cashews and settled in. Ten minutes later, I was folding laundry, then hanging the Christmas stockings, then cleaning the linen closet... in other words, the movie didn't keep my attention. There were some good scenes, like the ones involving the father - he ws quite a scene stealer. Otherwise, not much to think about. I can't believe I hadn't seen this before now!

  • Christmas short story: O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi, which I am hoping will convey the message that it is better to give than receive, and that a gift from the heart is best of all. I think this is a particularly good message for young children who have only the means at their disposal to make popsicle-stick ornaments. Instead of reading the story to them straight through, as I think some of the narrative segments having to do with setting and character may bypass their esthetic, I've reread it myself and will give them the summary/paraphrase as a nighttime story. I had forgotten what a wonderful wordsmith Henry is, remembering the story only for the surprise ending. But how I relished the phrases such as: "A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad." Would many modern authors rise to use a word such as mendicancy? I took the time this read to look up the term pier glass also, which I had skimmed over before. Knowing what it is gives a much clearer impression of the James' flat.

  • Christmas traditions: Baking! Snickelfritz (my younger boy) loves baking, and until now I have never made cookies with him. He got the gender-neutral EZ Bake oven (in blue) and a chef's dress up kit from my parents for his birthday and loves baking. Heck, the kid even likes to do dishes.

  • Christmas song: It turns out Doodle (the eldest) has been learning one I sang myself when I was in Catholic school ages back. I refreshed my memory of the words and here they are for you too. I love the beauty of these verses in Latin.

  • Adeste Fidelis

    words by John F. Wade

    Adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes
    Venite, venite in Bethlehem
    Natum videte, regem angelorum
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

    Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum
    Cantet nunc aula caelestium
    Gloria, gloria in excelsis Deo
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

    Ergo qui natus, die hodierna
    Jesu, tibi sit gloria
    Patris aeterni, verbum caro factus
    Venite adoremus, venite adoremus
    Venite adoremus, dominum.

16 December 2006

Magnanimous Men

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is one of the most gut-wrenching accounts I have read about WWII and the terrible, heroic sacrifices that the ordinary people called to serve had made. In popular culture, the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis survivors is best known through Quint's monologue on the subject in the epic movie Jaws, which I recall being absolutely terrified by when I first saw it.

The scientific explanations as to why the survivors drifed so far apart after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis show a depth of research by the author that is unusual in the genre of war histories, that tend so often to have an overly patriotic, rah-rah tone. The stories shared by Lewis Hayes, the ship's doctor, are terrible and mighty. The ordeal of the survivors, their efforts to live, the delusions suffered by some lost in the briny water and the tropical heat (and nightly chill) are told so well that there is a sense of immediate realism and engendered sympathy. The efforts of the crew to later exonerate Captain McVay reads a little dully for those not interested in military proceedings, but holds the story together in the end as a motivating factor for the survivors. One very interesting outcome of their exoneration efforts was the amity that developed between the survivors and Mochitsura Hashimoto, the commander of the Japanese submarine that sunk the ship with a torpedo attack. In a day when resentments and slights seem to linger for too long, the magnanimous spirit of these men serves as an example to us all.

If you visit Indianapolis, be sure to see the monument raised to the memory of the missing shipmates of the survivors.

12 December 2006

Tipsy point?

Are you struggling to keep up with the conversational gambits of your erudite friends at holiday parties? Do you find yourself at a loss when conversation turns to fashion, the latest trends, and the marketplace of ideas after a few eggnogs generously spiked with rum? Let me introduce you to an author whose ideas can enliven your chatter for months to come.

I recently ran into an old friend in the audiobooks section of my dear old library - Malcolm Gladwell. I love this guy's books. I've found myself referring to him recently in a few conversations and email chatter about blogging, so I thought I would re-acquaint myself with him through a quick listen to his audiobooks. Speaking of audiobooks, I highly recommend finding a few read by the authors themselves; take a listen to their inflections, emphasis, and intonations and help yourself to a new or better understanding of their works. The best example of this I know is the audiobook of Jim Lovell's Moon Shot, whose story is known to most people through the movie Apollo 13.

Gladwell may be familiar to some as the fellow whose analysis shows that swimming pools are far more dangerous to children than handguns, or that the crime rate in NYC fell in the 80s not due to a tactical cracdown on squeedgy wielding ne'er-do-wells, but due to the legalization of abortion in 1973. Of course I simplify these ideas and arguments here for the sake of brevity, so please do take a look at the work in its entirety before you make any final conclusions about Gladwell's efforts. If you're pressed for time, his reading of The Tipping Point is excellent. His basic idea is that social trends spread using methods and vectors analogous to those that spread disease through a population. He identifies three types of people who are vital to this kind of idea epidemic: connectors, mavens and salespeople. He then disects and analyzes a variety of events and activities, ranging the gamut from Paul Revere's Midnight Ride, the production of Sesame Street, and the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (who is, coincidentally, an actor in Apollo 13.). I know I'll never look at Sesame Street the same way, although I still love the muppets.

10 December 2006

2007 Winter Classics Challenge - 5 books

I determined my final 4 additions for the challenge, as follows, with some help from mom and the monk. Here is my final list. Notice the theme?

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce; I finally decided the agony of wondering if I could finish it on a deadline could be met stoically or not..

  2. Emma by Jane Austen

  3. Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë

  4. Julius Caesar by Wm. Shakespeare

  5. Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I'm excited I can get all of these as ebooks. Whoo-hoo! Now, I have to finish my hopper so that I'm clear by January. I think my next bout of insomnia will be spent with Lincoln instead of tweaking the blog. I've got some good notes for that book so it should be a definitive post on that tome. Ciao for now!

For more info on the challenge, see: http://readfromatoz.blogspot.com/. Thanks for organizing it!

08 December 2006

Guest review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, reviewed by a monk

I'm trying out a new idea here, which I may or may not continue. Following is a 'guest review' from Richard of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. I have a few friends and family who read widely and well, and thought it might be interesting to share their book thoughts on this blog. Thanks to Rich for sharing his review, and letting me hypertext it up.

This fall I reread Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim" for the first time since high school. Why I took so long to reread the book I can't say; probably because it was largely ruined for me, like "Huckleberry Finn", by my English teachers. Conrad's stories of sailors and the sea are definitely of another time, but his character portraits and plots would not fall out of place in any movie today. The story consists mostly of a character named Marlowe telling a tale or three about the title character, a young man named Jim whose great crimes are that he tried to save his own life and that he has an incurably romantic nature. (Anyone who doubts that Marlowe could not have talked for so long on one subject discounts Conrad's ability to tell a story, and probably hasn't attended a corporate-mandated meeting.) Marlowe ran into Jim several times at key moments in the latter's life and Jim's story fascinated him, largely because Jim's problems could have been anyone's if fate had twisted or changed. Jim seems to have finally found peace with himself and the outside world in a remote area of Celebes, having won this at great risk and with great valor. Marlowe visits Jim himself in this remote corner of the world to see how he was doing, and came away happy for Jim but uneasy, particularly as Jim's new lady love was uneasy, thinking Jim would want to leave.

I leave the ending for those who would read it. Conrad wrote in a very masculine style and was an advocate of the strenuous life. The book probably would appeal most to those who like stories of this type, but be forwarned that, having been written at the beginning of the 20th century by a man who had sailed the world over, there are terms, ideas, and assumptions that are not politically correct in today's prissy world. Still, it's a great tale that unfolds to its conclusion.

06 December 2006


Am I insane to consider James Joyce's Ulysses for this challenge from Booklogged ? Well, yes, but so...? I nearly named my firstborn Ulysses; a fate he narrowly escaped but the thought of hormonally induced name problems gives us chuckles today. Perhaps I should read the book that is better known for that name nowadays than are the original Greek stories.

I love the greek mythologies, have studied the classics as part of my history/philosophy work in undergrad - so it is possible that I can get all the arcane references and plot points that I am led to understand Joyce has used throughout his masterwork. I'm just daunted by the thought of all those more diligent readers than I who have failed to finish Ulysses. Worse yet, would I get caught up in the Bloomsday hysteria by 6/16?

But I really want to know why she says yes at the end:

"...I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

And although I've read the last chapter, I feel like I'm missing something. It is only 578 pages in the ebook from Project Gutenberg. I can do 578 pages standing on my head, considering the volume at which I usually read. So this is do-able, right?

I need to think about this some more before I can do a list of 5. Right now my list would look like this:

  1. "Ulysses."

  2. Ulysses.

  3. Ulysses?

  4. Ulysses...

  5. Ulysses!

I need to find 4 more still for the challenge...

Editing to link to my post with all 5: Winter Reading Challenge

03 December 2006

Fiddling with Frappr

I set up a Frappr map a while ago for a set of friends, and then today stumbled upon their "Friends" map feature that allows me to create a map which I could use to let blog visitors note that they've visited. Neat! However it looks pretty lame, brand new and all, with just a few paltry pins in it. It passes muster for a post but definitely not for my tweakily obsessive sidebar - yet. (I have this eerie vision of a beautiful, badge bar type of sidebar where all the badges are only 80 pixels wide and still legible, interesting, and thematic. I must be dreaming.) Help my Frappr map by adding a pin or two and maybe it can make the grade. : ) And thanks to my pal Jenni for (I think accidentally) clueing me in to this feature in Frappr by updating her Frappr profile!

02 December 2006

G.I.F.T Challenge

The G.I.F.T. Challenge

Thank you ExLibris for clueing me in to another excellent challenge from Carl V. at Stainlesssteeldroppings. I have been thinking today precisely of this; how to share holiday excitement and fun with my sons this year. The challenge from Carl is to pick 4 of 6 of various Christmas memories, and 2 must be new to you, or something you haven't done in a while. Here are my choices:

  • Christmas movie: A Christmas Story, which I've never seen before.

  • Christmas short stories: O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi, which I'd like to read to the kids.

  • Christmas song: The eldest son has been learning some latin piece at school for their winter show; it sounds vaguely familar, so I'll try and figure out what it is and learn it too.

  • Christmas traditions: Baking! My younger son loves baking and I have never made cookies with him so I will plan to do this with him.

Stay tuned for an update as to how well we do with this challenge. For now, I'd better get my butt out of blogging mode - I just got a call that the in-laws are coming over and I haven't showered yet today!

30 November 2006

A short write up on an extended essay

I just finished Biz Stone's Who Let the Blogs Out? and found it overall an enjoyable read. However, it had the feel of being a really cool essay pulled like stretch armstrong to fill a novel. Chapters 3, 5, and 6 were insightful; the rest a bit better than filler, but filler nonetheless.

The most interesting piece of the work to me was Stone's review of Granovetter's article, "The Strength of Weak Ties." {Note to Stone's editor: get the spelling of this Prof's name right in the next version, ok? What is with editors lately...} I read Granovetter's article, and it is excellent but densely packed with academic jargon and not as accessible as Stone's representation - also, it is clearly dated, with references to 'Negro' instead of the more current "African-American" being used. The basic concept, to summarize the summarizer, is that weak relationships (such as a friend-of-a-friend) are more likely to lead you to new and actionable social contacts than are strong connections (such as your dad). In other words, it isn't who you know, it is who who you know knows.

After reading this, I was left with an appetite to go and reread Malcolm Gladwell's books, Blink and The Tipping Point, which are two favorites. I decided instead of reading to seek out the audiobooks for some commuting I have coming up - heck, my hopper is full as it is.

29 November 2006

Sometimes I spend too much time nailing trees to cliffs

I am finally, finally feeling better and the possibility of resuming my normal life does not seem so remote. I just love this kiwi video. It completely captures my life this month; I have been spending all my time nailing trees to the cliffside, but now it is time for me to fly. Let's just disregard that bit about landing for now, though; I'll figure it out when I get there. I always enjoyed improv.

28 November 2006

Parting is such sweet sorrow

I have been reading and very much enjoying Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. Unfortunately, I have to return the book to the library now although I'm not done! I find library fines morally inexcusable on my part, especially when there are 181 other readers waiting on the book. I am finding the narrator very approachable, enigmatic, unusual - one of those types who would catch your eye in a crowded sandwich bar, wink, and inspire you to try and come up with an excuse to share a table with him. But I'll part from the book now, restore it to the library swap system, and see if I can bear to wait to get it back. Then I can get back to Lincoln. (I have no idea why this Lincoln book is such an effort for me, I like it well enough and the prose is flowing well - it is like my own personal Ulysses though, for now.)

I may not be able to wait for my turn to come round again at the library though, so perhaps I'll pick up a copy to gasp own. This is unusual for me; reading wise, I'm a libertine and will put eyes on anything - but when it comes to actually providing a home for a book I am very particular. Thus far though the book offers far greater depths to plumb than did Cold Mountain, and I don't know that I can be patient waiting for it to return.

In other news; we are putting up a tree tonight, which the boys are very keen on. And I am working a lead on a small short term opportunity that could be fun. Wish me luck!

24 November 2006

Lala widget

I was thinking recently of how well I like my librarything widget and that there should be similar widgets available for music, video, etc. I googled for something on a Lala widget and found the following courtesy of another blogger, jaXed - thanks fella. I modified it a bit, so blame me for any breaks - it works well on jaXed's site. I'll take a test run in this post before porting it to the sidebar; I'm being cautious since I just moved to Beta Blogger, also I figure discretion is the better part of valor when coding under oxygen deprivation, even when it is just HTML. I have to figure out how to slim this to a width of 80 for the sidebar, by dropping out some of the columns; just shrinking it makes it look like a sheet of microdots.

lala widget

February 22 2008 update: I was alerted by a reader that my widget (and the one I referenced by JaXed) are broken; sorry about that, they did work earlier. Here's what the lala widget used to look like. I wrote to Lala.com asking for help from them - I will post here again once they answer.

22 November 2006

Meming away on a day of gratitude

With courtesies to Liz at Fidoknits, I'm joining this meme to try and cheer me up. My life of late has been focused on trying to breathe and it is tiring. I am so very sick and tired of being sick and tired, and being sick on a holiday is such a double whammy. I am grateful today that I am able to breathe better now, after 3 weeks of not doing so well with this basic activity.

The instructions for the meme are: you can only type one word, no explainations. Go!

1. Yourself: Breathless
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend (spouse): Monkish
3. Your hair: Panacheful
4. Your mother: apart
5. Your father: Absent-minded
6. Your favorite item: PowerBook
7. Your dream last night: none
8. Your favorite drink: custardchino
9. Your dream car: FX35
10. The room you are in: Dining
11. Your ex: unremarkable
12. Your fear: forgetfulness
13. What you want to be in 10 years? Content
14. Who you hung out with last night? Family
15. What You're Not? Religious
16. Muffins: Pumpkin
17. One of your wish list items: Ahisma
18. Time: fleeting
19. The last thing you did: Childrearing
20. What you are wearing: Levi's
21. Your favorite weather: clear
22. Your favorite book: many
23. The last thing you ate: Cookie
24. Your life: changing
25. Your mood: Down
26. Your best friend: Husband
27. What are you thinking about right now? oxygen
28. Your car: Red
29. What are you doing at the moment? Blogging
30. Your summer: Unpredicted
31. Your relationship status: Married
32. What is on your TV? CyberChase
33. What is the weather like? 7-up
34. When is the last time you laughed? Yesterday

In other news: I am trying and mostly liking OmniWeb, however I am peeved that I have to keep blogging in Mozilla because Blogger acts wonky in OmniWeb. I like Mozilla well enough, but I wanted to use OmniWeb. Darn.

Kudos to another pal, Karen, for joining the blogosphere - I have no idea why I'm surrounded by Blogging Knitters, but if you need more knitting knews check out T-Town Knitiot!

19 November 2006

How geeky is this?

This morning, the monk and I were IMing from either end of the computer room simultaneously having an inane chat, too. On the vocal level, we were discussing the merits of coffee. This type of conversation is generally a war of attrition in more peaceable terms; the victor erodes the loser's sense of patience enough to cajole them into being the one to make the trip upstairs to refill the cups. On the IM, we were discussing my recent illness (a nasty lingering respiratory infection type thing, that has sapped all my patience and energy as well as my oxygen.) "How geeky is this?" he asked me. My response: "I dunno, I'll google to find out." So, I suppose *that* settles that question.

So, returning for the nonce to the subject of books; I read recently an essay by Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln the Persuader. This excellent essay covers not merely the scope and tenor of Lincoln's literary achievements, but describes the methods and attitudes Lincoln had towards writing:
Writing was often a form of refuge for Lincoln, a place of intellectual retreat, where he could sort through conflicting opinions and order his thoughts with words.
Sounds like Lincoln might have been an interesting blogger. My favorite part of this concise essay is Wilson's analysis of Lincoln's response to Horace Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions," which Greeley published as editor of the New York Tribune in August of 1862. Wilson provides all the necessary context for understanding Lincoln's response - that it was the nadir of his presidency; that he had to postpone the issuance of the emancipation proclamation due to the poor military results; and the burden of the precedence of the presidency on his actions. In spite of these limitations - or perhaps because artistry can flourish when confined - Lincoln's response accomplished an "piece of ingenious jujitsu" by deflating Greeley's errors and insults and ultimately rendering them unimportant, and instead speaking to a matter close to his heart - emancipation. Lincoln left no doubt in his statement that emancipation was a dear goal; however, he also respected practicality enough to know that emancipation could not be declared until it could be made real.

Another point Wilson makes very neatly is that Lincoln was working, through the media, to bring about the change he wished to see in the U.S. He was notably the first president to so address the public - directly, in response to criticism offered, and as clear explanation of his intentions and goals, without verbal subterfuge and trickery. His actions could serve as a model for our president today.

Now, I really need to finish Team of Rivals, so that I can next go back and further explore Wilson's other writings.

Lovely British mugs were a gift from Big Tomato Co.

13 November 2006

Roguish adventures? Not likely.

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things by Cy Tymony was profiled a few weeks back on Science Friday with Ira Flatow. I found the show's discussion pretty interesting, so looked up the book. (Exerpt available from Google.)I was hoping to find some kind of happy-fun Saturday morning type activities for me and the boys, a'la Bill Nye the Science Guy's cool and easy physics experiments.

Unfortunately, this book didn't really fit that bill. The writing was solid, but the experiments weren't all that interesting. For example, I could make a videotape rewinder. But then I'd have to explain what a videotape is to my digital-generation offspring, and that might lead to inconvenient questions about my LP collection, or heaven forbid my 8-track tapes be found! Why would I want to make a manual videotape rewinder anyway? And how long would it take to rewind a VHS tape by hand?

The most interesting items, like an automatic door opener, required the cannibalization of remote control car parts. I would rather have the car to play with!

So, skip this book if you aren't interested in one of the particular experiments listed in the TOC. I'll stick with My Guy Mr. Nye.

10 November 2006

Stop the Pain

Stop the Show by Brad Schreiber

Inane. Stupid. And me, I kept slugging through it hoping for redemption. I laugh easily, and am not ungenerous where humor is concerned; yet this book had me frowning in concentration, struggling to complete the darned book.

Get this poor guy an editor! Check this out:
One performance, in the Hippodrome Theatre, Osborne knocked and Atkins did not reply, With curtain time approaching, he whipped open the door in anger, only to find Miss Atkins in the process of inserting a sanitary napkin. (p 119)
This is an example of "the funniest, most frightening, and most truly bizarre stories" per the back-cover blurb? I've heard more interesting walking-in-on-a-private-moment stories from Bea Arthur. And inserting a sanitary napkin? Poor Miss Atkins indeed. That would be quite painful. Mr. Schrieber, a sanitary napkin is not inserted. Any woman would know this; I wonder did you have no female friends who could read this book and point out your gaffe? This guy must walk around with spinach in his teth, too,if his friends are so stingy with criticism. There is a 2-page list of acknowledgements at the end of the book, did none of these people notice this book's flaws, and mention them to the author?

Lest you think I am overly harsh, the author also includes distinctly unfunny episodes in theatrical history such as the historical Iriquois Theatre fire (p 75) and the 2002 Moscow Theatre disaster (p 115). These incidents, at the least, seem out of place in a book about "improvised lines; accidental pratfalls; falling scenery...." as listed on the blurb.

Is this guy related to Avery Schreiber? I like Avery's work, especially his Second City material. This author, OTOH, took an excellent idea - that often the behind-the-scenes actions in a play are as interesting as what happens on stage - and developed the idea so poorly that it became a tedious read.

08 November 2006

Better luck next time?

I batted 1 out of 5 for the RIP Challenge, but hopefully I can do better for the From the Stacks Winter Challenge. Thanks to the Overdue Books Blog for instituting this challenge!

This Challenge will be particularly difficult for me as I am addicted to my library card and often set aside purchased books or loans from other bibliophiles (with no formal due date) in order to take up something that just arrived at the library in response to my interlibrary loan requests. However, I embrace the challenge as there are some sadly neglected - and excellent - tomes hovering in my hopper.
  1. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
  2. 1491; New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (not purchased, but Mom loaned me her autographed copy and she'll want it back eventually)
  3. More Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. I rescued this from the $1 bin years and years ago at a used book store and haven't read it yet.
  4. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, because A Dance with Dragons will surely be published at some point. Right, George?
  5. Ten Colloquies by Erasmus (translated by Craig R. Thompson) because he has some interesting things to say about war and warmongering. Almost 500 years later, and still relevant.

07 November 2006

A very very bad dog

The new dog is doing quite well. The boys re-christened her "Slime Hound" due to her enthusiastic tongue-based greetings. She has also taken over the lower bunk bed, but is willing to accommodate the transient occupant nocturnally, so all is well.I am foolishly considering adding another pet to the house, since this one has fit in so nicely, and am resisting temptation. However, this guy at the Indy Humane Society has a photo that just calls to me. Something about that nose.

Speaking of dogs, I finally finished one of my RIP Autumn challenge entries: The Hound of the Baskervilles (link to complete text). I have been meaning to read this and a few other Doyle writings for years, and this finally got me motivated to do it - although not quite in time for the Halloween deadline. As dogs are top of mind right now, I couldn't help but read the book focusing instead on the poor animal so cruelly misused by the evildoer:
"The beast was savage and half-starved. If its appearance did not frighten its victim to death, at least it would paralyze the resistance which might be offered."
The author assumed that a dog such as this had no redeeming qualities, and in this fiction of course that is true enough. But I am put-off by the assumption of so many that certain breeds of dogs are destined to cause harm; personally, I was bitten once by a poodle (ouch) and another time by a rabbit (OWWW!) and find both far more scary nowadays.

Read this book sometime when you can notice the subtleties of engagement between Holmes and Watson (are they possibly more than friends?), reflect upon the now-ridiculous infatuation of Dr. Mortimer on skull shapes, and review the role of women in British society as represented by Miss Stapleton and Mrs. Lyons. Enjoy!

06 November 2006

A very bad dog

I heard an interview with Jon Katz on my WFYI, my NPR local station recently and was intrigued by his story of being saved by his dogs; he was not able to keep up with their daily needs which finally forced him to visit a doctor, although he was normally quite averse to medical attention. Literally, he said, the dogs saved his life by keeping him active and then sending him in where heart trouble was diagnosed and treated. I decided to try and read one of his books to better understand the dog-centered life he lives.

I found A Good Dog to be a compelling read, and finished it in about 4 hours - half of it during a road trip. It is immensely sad at the end; anthropomorphically, I kept waiting for the dog's redemption until it slowly dawned on me that the dog was not after redemption, never would be. I know no one who would have put as much effort into this animal. Katz did an excellent job of stringing me along through the process he went through in reaching this conclusion, without forcing it on me. Having a new canine companion in the home, and trying to adjust to her as well as give her the now-requisite obedience training etc., this was a heck of a timely read. Of course, my Perl's mischief has been thus far confined to merely puppyish acts of destruction, not the wanton acts of chaos that so derailed Orson's life.

There is a good Exerpt available from Slate, an interesting segment but not one characteristic of the work as a whole. I'm curious as to whether his other works tend more towards the human-philosophical (as occurs inthe exerpt) or the canine stories that I think are of more interest - share your comments if you've read any of his other works.

02 November 2006

There goes some of my 15 minutes

I managed to startle my husband today when I wasn't even in the room. He sure puts up with a lot from me. I'm sure his hair was standing on end. (After all, he needs a haircut.) Here's his reaction (overheard at a forum):
Oh .... my .......... God.

I just got a chance to finish listening to this episode, and when you mentioned comments at podcastalley, I wondered if mine would be brought up. (These guys make plays! They make plays!)

It wasn't, but MY WIFE'S WAS. *sigh* First, anyone who is married knows that you can't really force your wife to do something like listen to a sports podcast. Not if you want to sleep soundly, anyway. And now I have to let her know that, with about two minutes to go, she gets her name mentioned on a podcast.

I'm not sure how this will go ...
Thanks to the guys at Bang! Cartoon Radio Hour, my PodCast Alley comment was featured on their weekly program as an outro. It led to a frank and funny discussion of humor in relationships, which I thought was pretty good fruit to bear for a little seed of a comment. I'm still amazed that they pronounced my name correctly, too. Here's a link to a clip from their 'cast: Clip.mp3

Note to the listening public: PodCasting is hard work, and if posting something to the Alley helps a Podcaster keep on with their work, it is the least you can do to post a vote!

Artwork and audio credit to the fellows at Bang Productions.

31 October 2006

Meme tracking

I found this at Cipriano's blog , crediting Dorothy W., who credits Dr. Crazy who credits Anastasia, but the blog link is broken there and I couldn't continue the meme's trail.

1. Grab the nearest book.

I had to modify this a bit, because the nearest book was Machines at Work by Byron Barton, a board book which my 4-year-old checked out from the library recently. It has only 31 pages. So, I cast further afield, and the next nearest book is one my husband is reading off my bookshelf, something I'd acquired pre-matrimony.

2. Open the book to page 123.

Ok. Easy enough.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

Yah. Here 'tis: "You just keep slinging the same bullshit! shouted the SUBbie, and slammed back into his seat."

4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

"Casimir Radon listened to these exchanges with consuming interest. This was what he had dreamed of finding at college: small lectures on pure ideas from the president of the university, with discussion afterward. That the SUBbies had disrupted it with a pie-throwing made him sick; he had stared at them through a haze of anger for the last part of the meeting. Had he been sitting by the side door he would have tripped the bastard."

5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

Uh, see the example; I clearly didn't.

6. Blog visitors should guess the book referenced. Good luck!

Photo credit: Jay Queue at Flicker. I have a personal connection to the building displayed in the photo, and it also concerns the book I reference. For clues, click the link to his photostream.

30 October 2006

Staring at the moon

The boys and I listen to audio books at night. I used to do the read-to-them routine, but I'm not a patient reader when I'm tired and also any light on in the room keeps them up and active. Instead, we read in the morning if we have time before school; I use that as an incentive to have them ready on time.

So, I found an audiobook of Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton and based on the jacket blurb was considering getting it for them. They've almost finished The Stories of Br'er Rabbit which is great btw. But considering some of what I've seen recommended for children I thought I'd read the thing 1st.

I enjoyed the quick read, and folks who enjoyed the Harry Potter series or the DaVinci Code genre may as well. However, many of the side characters are derivative from other master works. The mother and father appear one-dimensional, aside from some underdeveloped scenes which, upon reflection, leave me wondering how these adults could possibly have accomplished anything at all. On the other hand, if you're going to borrow from past literature, starting with the greats isn't a poor choice.

The main characters - Blake and Duck - are charming and have a well-mixed blend of chutzpah and fragility that make them very likable. Also of great interest to me were the engaging scenes of the siblings developing and testing their relationship.

Will I get the audiobook for my children? I am not sure yet, as the simplified Parent Trap style ending may be difficult for them. At this point, I'm thinking I'll shelf it until they are a bit older.

27 October 2006

I hate daylight saving time

It is so stupid to artificially change time in some foolish attempt to trick everyone into doing their activities earlier. Ben Franklin had the idea originally; but if I read the legend of his idea correctly, it was a farcical idea, meant only in jest. Prerau quotes Franklin's reaction to a summer sunrise at 6 am:
"Still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for the sun's rising on that day... [others] will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of its rising so early; and especially when I assure them that it gives light as soon as it rises!"

This is the man who was referenced as an early supporter of DST? I fear the recognition of sarcasm was indeed poorly developed in the past. I was happy to be moving to Indiana, where DST wasn't being observed when I made the decision to move here. And then, before I'd even enjoyed 1 season without, they changed to conform to national DST!! Trust my luck to change a 39 year tradition of Hoosier noncompliance. We next change again on Sunday morning, 10/28.

DST is supposed to help people to have more time to enjoy sunlight, but all it does for me is make me late everywhere. I absolutely never adjust. My kids get up at their usual time, my life operates on a bio clock not the artificial one - so DST helps me not at all. The energy savings seem like a joke - we're supposed to save energy by not needing lighting at night, so we can guiltlessly go on a consuming binge in the evening - using gas and resources anyway. The total energy savings rounds up to 1%, which amounts to a very negligible statistical amount of the 340 million BTUs most Americans use daily. Just data noise, really.

In an effort to understand the DST effort, and specifically the Indiana relationship to it (and whether I should hope for them to give up the DST experiment), I read David Prerau's Seize the Daylight. His work looks to treat DST historically, to chronicle its whys and wherefores, rather than to take one side or the other. After the posturing surrounding the change in Indiana, this was refreshing. I enjoyed the facts and anecdotes but, unfortunately, did not find any reason to be more favorably inclined to DST. Prerau's book is an excellent discussion of the issues and provides nice background and stories about DST incidents over time. It certainly solidified my sense of time as a social covention.

welcome back to real time America*!

(*excepting Hawaii, and Arizona, who never changed. except on the Rez. The Rez in AZ that is.)